Last season, we were among those who were excited about what 2015 Yankees top draft pick James Kaprielian could do after an 11-inning debut between the Gulf Coast Yankees and Staten Island after signing for $2.65 million.
It was expected, after quickly establishing himself at Class-A Advanced Tampa, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound UCLA product. Who reminds some of the once-Yankees draftee, fellow UCLA product and Pittsburgh stalwart Gerrit Cole, would make a stop in Trenton, slide up the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Northeast Extension, and maybe travel over the Poconos to Yankee Stadium.
“He (Kaprielian) has front-of-the-rotation stuff,” said a scout from a National League East team. “A lot of us feel he’ll bounce back from his setback last year. It was good he pitched (27 innings in seven starts) in the Arizona Fall League.”
That setback was a strained flexor tendon in his right elbow that limited his 2016 regular season to three Tampa starts, in which he was 2-1, 1.50 and had a strikeout/walk ratio of 22-3 in 18 innings. The upside was rest helped heal the strain, and he threw well in both the Instructional League and AFL, where he was 2-3, 4.33 with a strikeout/walk ratio of 26-8 for the Scottsdale Scorpions
More important than statistics in Arizona was that he threw his fastball at 97, and it sat at 94-96. The elbow setback was one thing, but losing his mother, Barbara, to breast cancer in 2014 after a 14-year battle with the disease, was a bigger one to this mature individual.
The Yankees will be taking things slowly with Kaprielian, who turns 22 March 2, in Spring Training. While pitchers like right-hander Chance Adams and left-hander Justus Sheffield, scheduled to start 2017 at Scranton and Trenton, respectively, will likely face big-league hitters in Grapefruit League game, Kaprielian will throw only simulated games in Spring Training and start the campaign back in Tampa.
When the weather quits fooling us in New Jersey and warms up for good, Kaprielian will be promoted to Trenton, where he likely, with Sheffield, spend most of his season. If he dominates, he could make a few appearances at Scranton, but do not expect him to pitch for the Yankees in 2017.
As with Adams, who was being converted successfully from a reliever to a starter in 2016, the Yankees will limit Kaprielian’s innings. Do not expect him to throw more than 125 or 130 frames.
“I can see why the Yankees are doing this, managing my innings,” Kaprielian told reporters. “That is not something I can control. They want me to have a long major-league career.”
We agree with the Yankees’ plans for this elite prospect in 2017. Many scouts believe Kaprieiian, rated the club’s No. 5 prospect by Baseball America, has true top-of-the-rotation potential.
He backs that fastball with three other pitches – a slider and curve that both dip and dart and baffle hitters and a changeup that is improving. The ability to hit the strike zone with his fastball, slider and curve are also proven.
The only facet of Kaprielian’s game some scoff at is his delivery, which is highlighted by plunging arm action and is high-stress as far as possible future injury, is somewhat worrisome. The Yankees may also use 2017 to adjust his mechanics a bit.
Expect 2017 to be something of a learning season for Kaprielian. If all falls into place, he easily could claim a spot in the Yankees rotation in 2018.